CSUSB Professor Helped Animators Bring a Furry Character to Life in Pixar's Hit 'Soul'

Jan 22, 2021

Cal State University of San Bernardino's Dr. Stuart Sumida.
Credit Submitted/CSUSB

Pixar’s latest animated hit Soul, about the life-after-death adventures of a jazz musician, has an Inland Empire connection. Cal State University of San Bernardino biology professor, Dr. Stuart Sumida, worked with animators to help create one of the movie’s central characters, a very round cat named Mr. Mittens.

“He’s built a little bit more like a hamster, but he has to convince the audience he is a cat, that he is acting like a cat,” said Sumida.

This is what storytellers call suspending disbelief which, Sumida, who has worked on more than 70 films over the past 30 years, said is important when you are dealing with creating cartoon-like characters.

“We’ll take that shape and try and imbue it with the kinds of footsteps or movements or behaviors that a cat would normally behave in, so the audience says: Yeah that’s a cat!” said Sumida.

Audiences may not be experts in animal biomechanics like Sumida, but they will know if something is off. Sumida, an animal biologist who specializes in paleontology (think fossils), knows a lot about the way muscles and bones work together to create movement. His job is to translate that information to animators who already know a lot about structure.

“It’s layman’s terms, with remarkable understanding of physics and mathematics and computer science," said Sumida. "It’s really an interesting combination.”

The movie Soul can now be streamed on Disney Plus.